Retired NH cop argues policy for retirees to keep weapons
Policy differs from one town to another on whether or not retired officers can purchase their weapons
By Amy Vellucci
The Union Leader
NASHUA — A long-held policy of allowing retiring police officers to keep their weapons has one former officer up in arms.
Retired Nashua police officer and former union president Anthony Pivero questioned the department's policy of allowing retirees to keep their sidearms.
In the Queen City, retirees from the Manchester Police Department are not allowed to purchase their weapons, according to Lt. Maureen Tessier.
A slight exception was made a couple years ago when the department upgraded its weapons. Old weapons were returned to Sig Sauer, which then gave officers the opportunity to purchase their service weapon. The transactions did not involve the city. Tessier does not know how many officers took advantage of the offer.
The Hooksett Police Department retains ownership of old service weapons, Hooksett Police Chief Peter Bartlett said.
"There is no policy to allow retiring officers to either take ownership of or purchase their duty weapon," Bartlett said.
Pivero, at a Nashua Police Commission meeting last week, questioned the cost to taxpayers and the potential liability if any of the weapons were traced back to the city of Nashua after being improperly used.
In essence, the people tasked with enforcing laws are disregarding city rules for disposing of municipal property, basically giving it away, Pivero said.
The city ordinance requires that agencies report equipment that will no longer be used to the purchasing manager, who can transfer the property to other departments or establish a fair market price for bidding. With Finance Committee approval, the purchasing department can also donate, barter, or dispose of equipment that has not been sold or traded.
"If there are no checks and balances in place, people will do whatever they want," Pivero said.
Nashua Police Commission Chairman Thomas Pappas said retiring officers are given a plaque, a badge, and the option to keep their service revolver.
"My sense is many may take it for sentimental reasons," Pappas said.
The policy has been around for so long he never thought to question it, Pappas said.
"It's been in place for at least 30 years," Pappas said, adding that ownership of the weapon is transferred from the police department to the retiring officer through a registered dealer to comply with gun ownership laws. The value can vary, according to the type and age of the weapon.
"It's my understanding a brand-new weapon costs $400 to $450, in that range," Pappas said.
Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said she was unaware of the policy before the meeting and does not believe the police department should set its own policy regarding disposal of property, especially equipment that can be reused.
"It's important that the city has a policy and it's important that every department and division follow that policy," Lozeau said.
Gun policy stays
Police Chief John Seusing said he does not plan to end the decades-old policy.
"That's a practice that I think has been going on longer than I've been here," Seusing said.
The number of retirees varies from year to year, but Seusing estimated around eight to 10 officers retire annually and accept the offer to keep their sidearm more times than not. The weapon is free, but any costs associated with transferring ownership fall to the officer, Seusing said.
The practice provides a thank-you for many years of service and ensures the weapon is in the hands of a known owner qualified to use it, he said.
"We do not reissue older, used weapons to new officers," Seusing said.
By retirement, an average service weapon has fired thousands of rounds through training and would likely require maintenance and replacement of internal parts before it could be turned over to a new officer, he said. Instead, the department equips new officers, who will likely spend 20-plus years on the force, with a new weapon, Seusing said.
Goffstown and Portsmouth offer programs to retiring officers with the assistance of their respective police associations. It's customary for the Goffstown Police Association to purchase a retiring officer's weapon as a gift after 20 years of service, according to Capt. Robert Browne. The association is a separate entity from the police department. Money from the sale is used to purchase a weapon for an incoming officer.
When the department upgraded from .357 revolvers to semiautomatic firearms around 1996, the association purchased the new weapons for the department at no cost to taxpayers, he said.
Portsmouth retiring officers can get their service weapons with the assistance of the Portsmouth Police Relief Association. After 20 years of service, the association offers to purchase the weapon as a gift to the officer or provide the retiree with a small cash gift, said Lt. Darrin Sargent of the Portsmouth Police. The value of the gift or weapon is approximately $350, he said. Most officers opt to take the weapon, Sargent said.
Copyright 2013 Union Leader Corp.